Thursday, April 30, 2009

Rewarding Attention Starved Behavior...

Scene: A single chair in a dark room eclipses the incandescence of a T.V. tuned to CNN. A diminutive dictator pouts from his perch on this chair; The newscaster is describing the events of the Summit of the Americas. The camera, zoomed in on a single tear upon the face of the leader, slowly panning out to show the jealousy upon the face of Kim Jong Ill, palpable in the soft glow of the T.V.

Admittedly, the actual events were most likely not so dramatic or emotional. But the picture of Obama and Chavez engaging in that forbidden act of shaking hands must have bugged Kim. North Korea has worked hard to gain the attention of a disapproving world through its testing of a ICBM... I'm sorry, I meant "through the launching of a completely legitimate satellite"... and suddenly the attention was back on Mr. Chavez.

Luckily, all it takes is a statement released by North Korea railing against the U.N. Security Council to get back into the international spotlight. In a statement that comes disturbingly close to resembling a rant of Red Skull, North Korea asserts that "the hostile forces are foolishly scheming to suffocate the DPRK’s defence industry by physical methods". As usual, this is accompanied by a threat to defend North Korean interests through any means necessary.

The question of how to respond has been met by many suggestions from various sources but the bottom line is the only thing that North Korea has to threaten anybody is the nuclear program and the perrenially-hostage city of Seoul. The actual use of a nuclear weapon against another country or the destruction of Seoul would most certainly be negative and up to a point these threats must be taken seriously. After that point though the reality of the situation must take over. In spite of all of the belligerent talk and posturing from North Korea, the prospect of a unified military response from the world community means that any aggressive actions from the North Korean military would be suicidal. And the leadership must realize this; Despite all of the characterizations of lil' Kim as an irrational headcase it is clear that he enjoys his position and wants to preserve it. So he will continue to thumb his nose at the world and wave his prized nuclear program, but in the end it is most likely not a threat.

What does this mean for the U.S. and the rest of the world? Obviously we do not want to make the North Koreans feel as if they have nothing to lose. There is a danger in hinting that the North Korean regime is being targeted for intervention, but so long as they feel that noone is acting to disrupt their status quo the worst we can realistically expect is a continutation of the missile/satellite tests and more melodramatic statements from the North Korean regime. Token attention from the U.S. and other members of the international community should be paid, but the position from which NK is seeking to bargain is not such that the world has to bend to their will. Whether you view it as stalling for an inevitable regime change or just training North Korea to play by the rules, by overhyping the statements and actions of North Korea we only play into their relatively weak hand.

When I was your age...

According to Abu Muhammed al-Maqdisi, kids these days just don’t appreciate good old-fashioned jihadism.

Maqdisi, a cleric living in Jordan, is one of the most well-known jihad theorists in the world. His teachings have influenced many of Islamic extremism’s most violent leaders, including Osama bin Laden. He has been arrested several times on suspicion of plotting terrorist attacks against American targets in Jordan.

Still, he gets no respect.

Young jihadists say that Maqdisi is going soft. Maqdisi defended himself by quoting –wait for it— West Point. A study by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point concluded that he was extremely dangerous— “the most influential living jihadist,” even. Take that.

Maqdisi said that his critics within the jihad movement weren’t very bright, and he was surprised that “the enemies of religion read and understand us better than they do.”

Maqdisi represents the old-school branch of jihadism, defined by careful reading of previous jihad theorists that condone violence against emenies of Islam. The newer generation seems to be content with leaving these old scholars behind and interpreting the Koran as they see fit. As younger extremists become increasingly violent, they see the older scholars like Maqdisi as ineffective and submissive.

This kind of infighting probably won’t lead to the demise of radical Islam, as some have suggested, but it will lead to an even less centralized movement. Whether that will make it easier or more difficult to fight terrorism remains to be seen.

In the meantime, Maqdisi may want to look into another great American thinker:

America's Great Wall: The Final Solution?

We joked in class about putting those infected with the Swine Flu in quarantine and possible concentration camps. While of course, a ‘final solution’ as such is unlikely, advocates for legal immigration are taking this swine flu outbreak as support for their argument. They’re saying that the administration should look at this problem and finally secure American borders.

However, there is a firm symbiotic relationship between Mexico and the United States. Those arguing against securing the borders discuss how America is now receiving the materials they would need in case there is a swine flu outbreak. Also, goods travel daily across the border including products made in Mexico that are headed back to the United States.

The Obama Administration is definitely faced with a problem. This comes on top of Obama’s recent visit with Mexican President Felipe Calderon who is complaining about the truck restrictions forced upon Mexican truckers. On a positive not, if Obama were to decided to completely secure the border, the illegal drug trade could be decreased.

While the Swine Flu is the current issue facing border questions about Mexico, the problems go much deeper. There is a fine line to be walked, with positives and negatives. With tighter border control, the United States may be able to avoid a swine flu outbreak, even though it seems it has already infiltrated our borders. And yes, the drug war will be inhibitied but closing the borders also inhibits the substantial trade between Mexico and America. That being said, President Obama has a lot to think about, but I don’t think his thoughts will lead him to calling for a completely closed America/Mexico border.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Islamabaaaad Shape!

Even though the Taliban has advanced within 60 miles of Islamabad, Pakistani officials say their nuclear weapons are in “safe hands.” The Pakistani government has taken offensive action against the advancing Taliban using fighter jets to bomb Taliban targets. The government claims they are not acting under pressure from the United States but rather in the interest of their own national security.

Not only does the United States have to worry about the new movement of the Taliban, but this comes on top of the Pakistani government’s abdication of the SWAT region to the Taliban. Talibani control in Pakistan is of great concern to the United States because of its importance to the war in Afghanistan. The stability of Pakistan is a necessity for any success in Afghanistan. Since Obama authorized a 50% increase in troops, America needs to secure the western border of Pakistan to aid the troops fighting in Afghanistan.

The Pakistan government and President Zardari seem to be making the best out of the situation, though. Zardari has been quoted saying: "If Pakistan fails, if democracy fails, if the world doesn't help democracy, then any eventuality is a possibility." Zardari is calling for international assistance to aid the faltering economy. While he does not want to take orders from the United States, the country is willing to accept economic support from international donors.

No matter how the United States intends to approach this situation, it seems best to allow the Pakistani Army to defend itself against the Taliban. However, American should keep a watchful eye because of Pakistan’s strategic importance in the region and its possession of nuclear capability.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Pentagon Creates CyCOM

On April 21 the Pentagon revealed that information about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was stolen from the military's supposedly secure internal defense network. (Reports were unclear as to whether the information taken was secret.  Lockheed denied the fact.)  

The very next day, April 22, the Pentagon announced that it was in the process of rolling out a Cyber Command (CyCOM) to combat the exact type of breach that occurred concerning the F-35.  This command is to be the 11th combatant command and the 5th with a "functional responsibility" (e.g., Transportation Command).  

The task of creating such a command and getting it to function properly is enormous and presents previously unfaced challenges.  

Unlike a geographic command (e.g., CentCOM), cyberspace, and the potential attacks from it, is without boundaries.  Furthermore, the number of potential threats is growing daily as more and more individuals gain access to the Internet.  Unlike CentCOM or PacCOM which represent and protect military interests in their specific region, the new Cyber Command will have to protect US military assets around the world.  

It has been estimated that the Department of Defense is the single largest user of computers and networks in the entire world, including 11 million Internet users, 6 million PCs, and 10,000 networks.  And each potentially represents a door through which hostile (or even friendly) nations could gain valuable information about US defense programs.  Although protecting human populations and physical military assets (e.g., aircraft, Army bases) is easy to understand, the importance of having a unified Cyber Command to combat growing cyber security threats should not be downplayed. 

Currently military cyber security is conducted by the NSA, the Defense Information Systems Agency, and the Air Force.  (Domestic cyber security is headed by the Department of Homeland Security.)  Under the new Cyber Command the cyber defense portions of these agencies will have to be linked.  Unfortunately, because of the wide-ranging and varied tasks assigned to each of these agencies, putting them under one command could be a bit like rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic - a whole lot of usless work that doesn't address the real problem.  

I see great potential for a unified Cyber Command, but it will certainly be an undertaking so large in scope as to rival anything the military has previously attempted.  Although the battle cannot be seen, it is vital to continued US military superiority and should receive as much priority as the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

For once, mercs worked.

Just recently, Israeli mercs drove Somali pirates away from a cruise ship.

Much like with the sniper shots, there's a certain macho "yee haw" after reading that. But, again, I'm worried about escalation. So far, we've been lucky in that no one has been killing crew members yet. I hope that doesn't change, but it easily could.

On the other hand, this could be exactly what BlackwaterXe needs to get back in the game...

Trouble in paradise?

According to this week’s economist, Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, has warned Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu not to confront the new Obama administration. Barak even pushed the prime minister to propose his own solution on peace with the Palestinians to Washington, including the acceptance of a Palestinian state.

That’s a big change for Netanyahu, who has historically opposed a two-state solution, and has been notoriously obstinate when it comes to Israeli concessions to the Palestinians.

True, Obama and Netanyahu don’t have a whole lot in common when it comes to foreign policy. Obama’s push for a better relationship with Iran—a central element to his foreign policy— certainly doesn’t sit well with the right-leaning prime minister. Netanyahu’s plan for “economic peace” with Palestine, while it’s a start, won’t be enough for Obama.

But are their differences enough to spark real anxiety in Israel?

Unquestionably, the United States holds more power in the relationship and Obama is less inclined to give into all of Israel’s whims than the previous administration. He is also more likely to push hard on key issues in the peace process.

Still, Obama has assured Netanyahu that the U.S. continues to see Israel as a strong ally and has shown no signs of reneging. Even if Obama wanted this to change, the domestic political pressure to support Israel is simply too strong to ignore.

Will Obama be able to convince Israel to stop settlements in Palestinian territories? Will Netanyahu bend to the “two-state solution” that Secretary Clinton says is inevitable? Maybe. But the overall dynamic of the U.S.-Israel relationship is unlikely to change dramatically.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Aaaaand.....BOOM goes the spread of disease!

Is the US prepared for Swine Fluapalooza '09? By now we've all heard about the potential for a global pandemic stemming from the swine flu outbreak in Mexico, but is the United States ready to control the flu if outbreaks start from within our own borders? Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary says 'yes'.

Today Napolitano declared a public health emergency for the US to free up resources to deal with a fly outbreak. It's very similar to when the President delcares a federal disaster area of hurricanes, floods or tornados. These resources include straetgically placing 7 million doses of the anti-viral Tamiflu around the US by the DoD.

The pandemic threat level, according to the World Health Organization is currently at Level 3 of 6, which denotes limited human transmission. Officials expect the pandemic threat level to surpass Level 3 very soon. Currently, the US State Department have not issued any travel advisories to Mexico, but Napolitano did not rule out that possibility. Cases of the swine flu have been reported in Ohio, Texas, California, Kansas and New York.

So is the United States properly prepared for a potential pandemic? While government incompetence was on display during the Katrina debacle, officials seem to have their ducks in a row with this. Or maybe that's just because I don't know anything about the spread of disease and whether we're properly prepared or not, but it at least seems like the proper precautions are being taken. Like the bird flu or SARS, we'll be innundated with lots of fatalistic Dateline and Today Show specials showing the toll of the spread of global disease would look like. So it should be interesting the next few weeks.

I'm going to Wal-Mart to get some masks. Want me to pick you one up?

Appeasement works, Right?

Location: (Swat) Pakistan

Afghanistan is not alone in its trouble with the Taliban. Pakistan is increasingly suffering more organized and forceful military action within its borders by Taliban groups (and not just in the Federally Administered Territories). The implications of these developments for the “War on Terror” are notably bad. Recently, the government of Pakistan engineered a political agreement with the Taliban in a troublesome province in an effort to mitigate violence and establish some semblance of peace. This agreement constituted a political concession by the Pakistani government wherein the Taliban is able to institute Islamic Law in the state of Swat (and presumably oversee its “legal” conduct and execution). The Pakistani government has stated that this type of political concession is part of a larger strategy to engage the Taliban groups and manipulate the fractures within their organization (a seemingly divide and conquer approach). Unfortunately, the foundation of this strategy and the darkening realities on the ground in Pakistan make the prospect of a “two-state failure” increasingly high.

To begin, one must wonder if an approach of appeasement can be translated into strategic success. To be fair, appeasement is an intelligent option to avoid confrontation (especially if your prospects for victory seem minute), but Pakistan has surrendered its sovereignty under this new arrangement. In effect, Pakistan has ceded control of an area well within its borders to an adversarial, insurgent force. Furthermore, popular support for the Taliban has been increasing, which immediately enhances the challenge to the obviously limited capabilities of the Pakistanis to “exploit” the fractures between Taliban groups.

Consequently, the fundamental concept underlying the stated Pakistani strategy becomes quite dubious. For instance, if Pakistan is unable to contain or control one area of concentrated instability, how could it possibly succeed in a complex, political, counterinsurgency operation? It would seem that this tactic (appeasement) – in this circumstance – will encourage, not discourage further insurgent actions and ambitions. This outcome would be or is undoubtedly disastrous.

Following this line of thought – fatally flawed strategy coupled with increasing Taliban power – there seems to be an ominous trend developing for political control and military success in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The challenges of securing and developing Afghanistan are already massive. Yet, the potential of a destabilizing and increasingly lawless Pakistan is dreadful. Such a scenario would fundamentally alter ALL risk and capability assessment for the United States’ efforts in Afghanistan, and jeopardize the feasibility of remaining in the area under the same “mission.”

Saturday, April 25, 2009

We Should Have Taken More Geography

This is the Band-e-Amir lake region in Afghanistan, location of the country's first national park (more pictures here). While this is a nice sign of normalcy for a troubled nation, natural divisions such as these may be more important than ever. In an interesting article on, Robert Kaplan discusses the importance of that most neglected of ninth grade social studies topics: geography. Since most geography conversations I have ever been a part of range in topics from "What do you mean New York City is not the capital of New York (state)?" to "What do you mean Istanbul is not the capital of Turkey?" It was nice to not read anything justifying the importance of Albany or Ankara.

In The Revenge Of Geography, Kaplan uses the differences in geography within nations, specifically in Eurasia, to explain their instability. While I have heard the artificial boundries, set up by colonialist arguments for Africa before, he makes some interesting points about the same dynamics promoting difference between comparitively docile areas of Afghanistan beyond the Hindu Kush, and the Pashtun-speaking areas in southern Afghanistan and tribal regions in northern Pakistan (he would prefer to call this area of mountainous disorder Pashtunistan).

While I'm not so sure that the Taleban movement can be reduced to simply Pashtun nationalism, keeping in mind ethnic differences and conflicting allegiances that happen when a nations' borders are illogically bound is cool. Americans are fortunate to have a lot of stability which comes from clear borders and a pretty culturally inclusive society; but this may blind us to seeing the legitimate threat of an divided country. Flashpoint by flashpoint, this article offers illogical national boundries as a cause of violence and oppression. He makes some pretty disconcerting implicit statements, which could be paraphrased as; Saddam had to be brutal, since that sort of brutality is the only way to govern as illogical a place as Iraq (Yikes! for the prospect of Democracy), and, all of Eurasia is about to be as hotly contested as Israel/Palestine (Yikes! in general).

But, if you consider Saddam Hussein's brutality stemmed from the impossibility of governing his disparate nation, we have a better sense of how to help make the area more stable (but don't ask me how), and it may not hurt to stop asserting there exists an international identity like "the Muslim World." Then maybe imposing sharia law worldwide is not the only way for everyone to live peacefully together. Thats good news for those scantily clad, hard drinkin ladies out there, and all who admire them.

so can geography be blamed for our shameless exploitation of women and consumption of alcohol?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Someone in Beijing has been reading Mahan

China has announced that it intends to publicly unveil  multiple nuclear submarines this Thursday as part of an international review of its navy.  This public viewing of the Chinese navy’s most advanced vessels is heralded by Xinhua, the state news agency, as a means of “promoting understanding about China’s military development” Xinhua also reported that the Chinese military hopes to dispel an suspicions that it is a threat to world security by allowing the international community to publicly view its navy and its capabilities.  The unspoken motive is that China is simply bolstering its national security and wants to make its naval capabilities public instead of hiding them from international review.  This way the world will be less anxious about hidden naval threats from the Middle Kingdom and the possibility of misunderstandings will be reduced.

Notably, senior Chinese officials have also said they would like to build an aircraft carrier to better defend their national security.

I’m all about conventional military buildups, but it seems to me that parading the Chinese navy and its nuclear submarines for an international review and announcing that (by the way) they would also like to have an aircraft carrier will not reduce the anxiety level of anyone in Japan or Taiwan.  All it will do is turn international suspicions about hidden Chinese capabilities into suspicions about known Chinese capabilities.  I doubt that there is anyone who does not believe that these vessels will not be used as leverage in some future dispute with Taiwan or to project power in the South China Sea.  Someone in Beijing has been reading Mahan and wants to get the world acclimated to the idea that China is rising power that will be capable of projecting influence across oceans.

The most irritating part about this episode is the Chinese announcing their desire for an aircraft carrier.  Submarines are cheap and efficient ways of keeping rival navies from having full control of the oceans.  By definition, they are meant to project power on the seas but not the land (with the exception of nuclear-armed submarines, but that is a special case).  Aircraft carriers are designed to project power on the seas and the land.  How can the Chinese military claim that they want suspicions that they are a threat to world security to disappear if they also claim to want vessels that can project their power into other countries?

China has traditionally been a land power, but now it is testing out its sea power capabilities.  In Strategic Thought we had a discussion not long ago about whether or not a strong land power needed to be a strong sea power as well in order to win a war against another sea power.  I hypothesized that it was not necessary as long as the land power could keep control of the land, but this episode with China has made me revise my thesis.  A land power does not also need to be a sea power to win a war, but it does need to be a sea power if it wants to be an empire.  And I think empire is where China is heading.

Betting it all on Russia

According to an article on, the United Nations will consider supporting a uranium bank that would be located in Russia. The bank would provide an alternative to uranium enrichment for countries, such as Iran, who build civilian nuclear power programs. Uranium enrichment is a required step for the production of weapons-grade uranium, which could be used in nuclear weapons. According to the proposed plan, the bank would be administered by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The creation of such a bank is widely seen as a positive step toward securing reactor-grade and spent uranium. This would allow countries to pursue peaceful nuclear power without increasing the amount of poorly-secured nuclear material. It is a step recommended by Colonel William Hauser and Lt. General Robert Gard in their speech at the Patterson School on April 9, 2009. The bank will prevent terrorists and rogue states from getting their hands on nuclear material.

However, is Russia really the best place for a uranium bank? It offers a few advantages. So far, the Russians seem very willing to host the bank, since it will allow them to sell uranium to countries who currently have a peaceful nuclear power program or who develop one in the future. Russia also offers the advantage of being geographically close to uranium deposits in Siberia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

But set aside, for a moment, the advantages that such a uranium bank would provide in the realm of nuclear non-proliferation, and consider the matter of energy security. Allowing this bank to be hosted by Russia means that many countries would be dependent on Russia for their energy needs. This hasn’t worked out so well in the past with regard to natural gas pipelines. Russia has, at times, held Eastern Europe hostage by cutting off the flow of gas in the winter. If Russia becomes the main source of nuclear fuel for dozens of countries, what’s to stop it from using the same tactics to extract rents that it uses in other energy sectors?

The uranium bank is a positive step toward securing nuclear materials and encouraging the peaceful use of nuclear power, but allowing Russia to host the bank is too large a gamble.

Monday, April 20, 2009

iWar: Hope they have a Genius Bar in Kabul!

The military is going trendy! In line with Secretary Gates's plan to better prepare the US armed forces for a "different kind of warfare" (per the budget restructuring, RIP F-22), the military is using more iPod Touches and iPhones in combat zones. These devices, which require little training to use, aid with translation, video sharing, intelligence transfer, recon, and various other tasks in the field. (Not to mention easy accessibility to Twitter and Phone Saber!). With new applications hitting the App Store daily, for free or very reasonable prices, the iPod is a brilliant information resource and communication device.

Also in line with the budget cuts, iPods are relatively cheap ($229-399). Despite these advantages, the biggest issue I foresee with the iPods is maintenance issues. I will safely assume that there is no Apple store close to Iraq or Afghanistan. I have seen quite a few Pentagon men quite upset about the malfunctioning state of their iPod Touch in Virginia; think how frustrating that could prove in battle zones. Maybe an iAnger Management class is the solution?

A substantial advantage these handy gadgets may provide militarily is in translation. We are all familiar with the shoddy job of cultural training in the armed forces and disasters that may stem from linguistic misunderstandings. iPod Touch applications offer a quick and simple resource for brief translations, even the opportunity to contact a translator with rapid feedback (if wifi is available). The opportunities for new applications to swiftly address various other problems are endless. Alert geeks! Maybe those free App Store codes will turn into a defense contract or two. (Not to mention a little security for AAPL stock.)

Most notably, such portable devices are an important step into attaining full-fledged NetCentric Warfare. iPods and iPhones can easily be programmed to plug into the Global Information Grid , transferring vital intelligence and orders instantly to anywhere with access to the network. The US military may want to look into installing a fail-safe component, just in case one falls into the wrong hands.

Private Pirate Fighters

I found it very interesting and was actually a little excited when I found out the United States had a real pirate in its custody. I’d say it has been quite a long time since the U.S. will actually put a pirate on trial so I found myself wondering what exactly they would do. I began thinking about the U.S. Constitution and how piracy is addressed in the document. I first thought the policy against piracy was to hang pirates, but after further research it seems there is something that might actually be more applicable to combating today’s piracy problem.

Turns out that in the Constitution, the Legislative Branch has the power to “grant letters of marque and reprisal” which allow privately owned ships to search and even seize a violator of international law, in this case pirates. With this letter, the private party can go beyond the border to raid and capture the enemy vessle. However, in order to maintain control, the privately owned ship is under the authority of Congress.

Letters of Maruqe and Reprisal may seem far-fetched but after the seizing of the American ship this month, I believe they are something that should be considered. This modern-day piracy is difficult to fight militarily especially since the U.S. army is actively engaged in other areas of the world. By giving the right to privateers, under U.S. authority, we may be leaning towards a solution for fighting piracy off the horn of Africa.

As for the pirate in U.S. custody now, I don’t know…maybe make him walk a plank.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Warrior Culture and Suicide

In January, statistics were released that the suicide rate in the Army has now surpassed that of civilian life. Approximately 20 soldiers out of 100,000 have taken their life in the last year as opposed to 19 civilians out of 100,000.  Considering that this is the fourth year in a row that the Army suicide rate has risen, it does let us expect that the numbers will continue to rise in the coming years.

There seems to be a fairly even distribution between suicides that occurred during deployments, after deployments and among those never before deployed, such as the cases at West Point.  Long, recurring deployments are causing more divorces and family stress that soldiers have trouble coping with.  After they return, many have trouble adapting back into the life of a non-combat zone.  Sleeping with your rifle within reach, coming under enemy fire and experiencing a high stress level due to the constant change between boredom at the FOB and a strong adrenaline rush on missions for over a year can change a soldier's attitude and perceptions.  Non-detected brain injuries and cases of PTSD are also a leading cause for suicide after soldiers return. Some soldiers try to cope with changes through substance abuse, but that only causes further problems with themselves and the people in their lives.

Sure, there is no simple solution to this problem. But what has the military been doing the last seven years?  The Army says it started hiring more general practitioners and mental health care specialists and began work on a five-year research project to identify the causes of suicide.  And, to its credit, it seems to have stepped up its effort at suicide prevention projects, since you hear references to hotlines and information programs on the Armed Forces Network these days.

Yet, I think that a primary problem is that the warrior culture of the Army impedes a lot of these efforts.  A good soldier is strong and self-sufficiently defends the interests of his country.  The first sign of weakness means that he is incapable of fulfilling his perceived duty and subject to a potential loss of respect from peers and subordinates.  There is a stigma associated with mental weakness and it will also be forever captured in a soldier's medical file. For many, the Army is their life and they do not have much to return to in a civilian world, if their families are torn apart and mental weakness keeps them from holding a steady job.

And yes, these people chose this profession willingly and for a reason, but that especially should make the military more responsive to their problems.  Veteran's health care also needs to be improved. Waiting 3 months for an appointment and driving 300 miles to the nearest VA hospital projects an image that veterans have been discarded by the government. While the Army's health care is not bad by all means, an improved health care system geared more towards the individual and especially better post-deployment care would demonstrate professionalism and concern for the Army's employees and also potentially help attract more soldiers and better doctors. But with the shift of more troops to remote areas in Afghanistan, a new problem seems to be a lack of access to deployed soldiers by medical personnel. Thus, it would be no surprise to see suicide rates rise again next year...


Saturday, April 18, 2009

AAARRRRR you serious?

I used to like this whole pirate issue, I really did. While I never really giggled at how funny it was for it to be happening in modern times, it seemed to be important, interesting, all that stuff.

So you might think, with Piracy hitting the mainstream media like a cannonball with the attack and rescue of the Maersk Alabama, I would be happy about it. In fact there were some great articles explaining the whole situation on BBC (favorite part: "Reza, who described how he had wrestled one of the pirates to the ground then stabbed him with an ice pick.") and an even more visual re enactment here.

But while watching the Daily Show's antics and enjoying the story, I am very disappointed while reading these articles with subjects like "retaliation" and "escalation." These pirates are just criminals, put into a great place and finding some media attention. Our media expects too much, maybe we are all too terrorist crazy to not see a connection when in fact there isn't one. How would they escalate? They are using all the weapons and military prowess they posses already (it should be obvious that anyone who, Standing up, brandishes his piece to an American within range of an American battleship has little ability to do anything) and the prospects of newly-rich pirates re-investing in their company has to be slim.

The wussies who don't want to shoot these guys, but want to help economically develop their country should know that rich Africans rarely re-invest; they are much more likely to build a nice house, get satellite tv and never work another day in their life. I would say the problem is solved: get rich or die tryin'.

If you want a real calamity, check out freakin Nigeria. That place is about to be a terrible place to be, and it will be further exaserbated when huge MEGADROUGHTS hit all of West Africa. megadroughts, really? That is real bad, since we get 1/5 of our oil from there. Looking at those funny little pirates is distracting from Nigeria; in the business you call that the Kansas City Shuffle.

But, don't be discouraged; they got pirates too! Looks like e'erybody's gettin rich. Or they dien' tryin'

Friday, April 17, 2009

Dramatic Cut in Pay Leads to Wave of Resignations Within the Human Terrain System

In other news, you can expect water to still be wet and the sky remains blue. But in all seriousness (and despite this being fairly old news) the Human Terrain System (HTS) has experienced a loss of about 33% of its employees following an announcement that all team members would be converted from contractor status to government employees.
For those unfamiliar with the HTS program, it is a program that has brought social scientists and linguists to Iraq and Afghanistan to provide cultural and sociological insight to military leaders and decision makers. The idea is that by providing a more complete and accurate picture of the human geography in the regions in which it is currently engaged, the U.S. can make better decisions for both the people there as well as U.S. interests. The program has admirable goals but has had more than its fair share of bad press. This includes team member Don Ayala pleading guilty to manslaughter for killing a man who had killed his colleague, Paula Loyd. Another contractor has been indicted on charges of spying for Saddam. Bottom line is that the program has had some fairly major "hiccups".
The program itself should not be written off as a failure though. Between Mr. Hopey-Changey calling for more intelligent solutions and Bob Gates advocating for solutions that are not entirely based upon the military, this program seems to be along the lines of precisely what the U.S. needs to support. And Obama has said that he plans to expand this program. The problem is that the program has been crippled as a result of the aformentioned cuts to pay as contractors are converted to government employees. We are asking academics to put themselves into harm's way while simultaneously removing the only real material incentive for doing so. And as a result we see a wave of resignations from the HTS program. For this program to succeed, the U.S. needs to be able to draw top academics and regional experts into the ranks and this may mean an increase in funding during a time when everything seems to be facing cuts. It may seem unreasonable to some for the HTS members to earn $200,000+ but you get what you pay for and it is more unreasonable to expect the type of academic that the program would most benefit from to leave the safety of their positions for a third of that amount. The HTS has a chance to do some real good in Iraq and Afghanistan but cannot achieve its potenatial if it cannot lure the experts that it needs.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sec. Gates Denies Use of Most Advanced Military Radar

The $900 million SBX radar system.  It was on R&R while North Korea conducted its latest missile launch.  Why?

The Washington Times reported yesterday that Secretary of Defense Gates denied NORTHCOM's request to use the military's most advanced radar system to monitor and collect detailed data about the Tapedong-2 missile recently launched by North Korea.  Why wouldn't the US use this system which "is clearly without a doubt the most powerful and capable sensor in all of our missile defense inventory" to gather data about the North Korean missile launch?  Several possibilities exists.

Before the possibilities can be explored, a little detail about the SBX (Sea-based X-band Radar) is warranted.  It is widely rumored that the SBX is so powerful that it could be stationed in a harbor in New York and track a home run hit out of a ballpark in San Francisco.  The military has acknowledged that the SBX's abilities were used to track and shoot down a rogue spy satellite in 2008.  The SBX was launched in 2005 and is typically stationed in Adak Island, Alaska, although it has recently been in Hawaii for repairs.  And of course, the SBX looks like a golf ball teed up on a giant driving range.  I personally think that the SBX looks cool enough to make even Dr. Evil proud - not quite a laser beam on the moon, but pretty close. 

So if the SBX is so powerful and could provide finely detailed data on North Korea's missile launch, why didn't Sec. Gates approve its use?  

1) Some have argued that the SBX wasn't used because it was undergoing repairs.  Unlikely - I highly doubt that the US military would have allowed its most powerful radar system to be getting its oil changed when it was needed most. 

2) Others have said that it wasn't used because we were afraid of provoking North Korea.  Ridiculous - This theory fails for two reasons.  First, how would the North Koreans even know the SBX was in use when it could sit on our side of the Pacific and do its job?  Second, what would the additional "provocation" of North Korea look like?  Remember, they were already launching an ICBM for crying out loud. 

My personal opinion is that the SBX wasn't used because the US knew the missile would fail.  There is no other explanation.  If the US truly thought the missile posed a threat or could reach Hawaii (as had been reported) then all of our missile defense capabilities (of which the SBX is the backbone) would have been at the ready.  

Assuming we knew the missile would fail leads to one final conclusion - the US was able to manipulate and bring about the missile's demise.  This could have taken place by covertly providing faulty missile components or having a HUMINT source on the ground sabotage the launch.  Either way, the only reason not to use your best tools is because you know they don't need to be used.  The missile launch was doomed before it left the ground and that is why the SBX wasn't deployed. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Though discussed quite less as of late the Ukraine remains an important point of observation for political and military affairs in Europe and the United States. Importantly, the Ukraine holds a geographically strategic position in relation to Russia (and the Black Sea), is an important variable for further NATO expansion, and has exhibited notable efforts towards political and economic westernization. Therefore, developments in Ukraine are of global significance and dramatically impact balance of power assessments for Russia and the West. Consequently, the economic crisis that has fallen upon the world has hit the Ukraine particularly hard, and has put its political future in serious doubt.

To begin, the national economy is on the verge of collapse. The steel and chemical factories which form the backbone of Ukrainian industry are all suffering reductions or closures. Private national banks are increasingly facing capital pressures or have already succumbed to insolvency. Most recently, the IMF refused to disburse $16.4 Billion in rescue money and the government itself if facing the likelihood of debt default.

Furthermore, President Viktor Yushchenko has become quite unpopular as of late. Ascending to power in the “Orange Revolution” – a mandate against Russian influence – the government has been criticized as unresponsive and incompetent as of late. An ever-popular view is that westernization efforts and political bickering have contributed greatly to the current state of economic disarray and will continue to make Ukraine vulnerable to western developments. In turn, the probability for significant political change is very high.

As a result, it is likely that the Ukraine will become a hot topic once again in the near future. The traditional political and ethnic divisions within the Ukraine are clear, but the global economic crisis may push these pressures to a dangerous point for the interests of the West. This set of circumstances comes at a time when the U.S. remains bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and Russia has been flexing its influence anew on the former Soviet States.

More pirates

Apparently, the pirates have decided that reprisals may keep us from attacking them anymore. The most recent attack on the US ship was planned, apparently.

The pirates are now setting up "special forces teams" of their own to attack the US flagged ships. France is attacking back stronger, as well, against the pirates. But we may be seeing the beginning of the escalation that we were worried about. I am somewhat worried that the reprisals against American ships could soon lead to some dead Americans (something we haven't had to worry about just yet.)

I am curious as to what the upper limit of Somali armaments is. Right now, they have RPGs. Do they have access to worse? Could they end up using the Iranian "swarm boat" tactics to fight our navy? I don't want to be alarmist, but I'd like to know what the worst possible scenarios are.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gates: Samurai (at the end)

Undoubtedly the most interesting news in U.S. military affairs in recent weeks has been the budgetary propositions formalized by Secretary of Defense Roberts Gates. Central to these propositions has been the focus on pragmatism – dramatic cuts in popular but expensive development programs and freezes on certain procurement items – due to the pressures of fighting two wars simultaneously. Furthermore, and perhaps more notably, Gates spoke for the need to reorient U.S. capabilities towards counter-insurgency operations and away from Cold War style conventional preparation and procurement. Though personally I agree whole-heartedly with the strategic arguments reflected in Gates’ proposals, I do not believe the United States will witness a conversion of ideas into reality. In short, I do not believe the Gates’ proposals can succeed.

To begin, Gates has agreed to straddle two different presidential administrations, which places him in an interesting arena historically. However, it is very unlikely that Gates will be willing or able to remain in his position for the duration of Obama’s term. This reflects both the opinions of Gates himself and the political/personal strain of the job. Importantly, his departure would assuredly terminate the policy momentum and political capital surrounding his recent propositions. Additionally, it is unlikely that a new Secretary of Defense would be willing the vehemently defend the policy path generated by Gates.

Secondly, the Pentagon and related defense industries will most likely not support (now or later) a fundamental reorientation of the U.S. military, regardless of whether Gates is leading the debate. We must remember that at the height of fighting in Iraq we did not hear a prominent call for the development new strategies and capabilities for the military (at a time when such a discussion could not have been more pertinent). We did not hear a debate over what the military needs now versus what it may need in the future. To be fair, this circumstance could be a reflection of the political strength, influence, and solidarity wielded by the Bush administration. Yet, it is more likely a reflection of the strength of the defense industry and the military’s reluctance to become involved in COIN operations (which is easy to understand).

Consequently, the prospects of “success” for Gates budgetary propositions (and accompanying strategies) are not good. The progenitor himself is unlikely to stay around long enough to conduct his concept to fruition. This fact makes the policy goal almost a pipe dream. Perhaps more importantly, the defense industries don’t want to prepare/produce for COIN operations (due to the lack of “exciting” big ticket items), and will lobby for “alternative” budget formulations and strategies. Also, military commanders may be understandably hesitant to commit towards such a reorientation (as such fighting plays away from the natural strengths of the U.S. military and its capabilities). In turn, the planning procurement process in Washington should not be expected to change dramatically any time soon.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Unicorns, Fairies and a World Without Nuclear Weapons

OK, I’ll say it. This whole “world without nuclear weapons” thing is ludicrous.

To be fair, Obama is not the first American president to call for this, nor will he be the last. But the idea is a bad one.

First of all, I’ll reveal my cynicism by saying it’s not possible. It’s like uninventing electricity. Or maybe there’s a better analogy. Has anyone heard of that gossip parable, with the woman and the bag of feathers? Well, now imagine that the feathers can reproduce asexually and take on the form of non-feathery things. That’s how difficult it would be to eliminate nuclear weapons from the world.

Here’s why. The scientific know-how exists, and it can’t unexist. Building on this fact, I’ll approach this thing logically.

What do nuclear weapons provide? Well, they’re cheaper than building and maintaining a massive conventional army able to compete with the United States. They’re also extremely effective deterrents. A country can increase its standing in the world, and force greater powers to listen to it, by possessing nuclear weapons. And some countries that possess nuclear weapons or possess the capabilities of creating nuclear weapons are not moved by President Obama’s idealistic rhetoric.

The way they see it, no one would like to see a nuke-free world more than the United States. That’s because the United States has, by far, the largest and most capable conventional military force in the world. What would be an incentive for countries like, say, Russia or North Korea, to give up their nuclear weapons? Or for that matter, how about Israel, which has a very capable military but is surrounded by adversaries? Not only would it require the elimination of enmity, hate, and all those things that we’d like to get rid of in the world. It would also require the elimination of the concept of self-interest, or the self-protection of the state.

In the highly unlikely case that the United States and Russia got rid of all of their nuclear weapons, would smaller countries get rid of their nukes? No. They would see them as just as valuable as a deterrent against the huge military forces—a means of fighting asymmetrical warfare, if necessary. This also also means that terrorist groups, whose budgets are growing and who certainly don’t have qualms about looking bad in the eyes of the international community, would continue to seek nuclear weapons. Sure, that’s not going to happen anytime soon given the difficulty of creating nuclear weapons and using them effectively, but it could happen in the time it would take for the great powers to rid themselves of their entire nuclear arsenals.

Not to go all right-wing gun-nut on you, but there’s also the old 2nd amendment adage—if you outlaw all the nukes, only the outlaws will have nukes.

On a related note, Obama said that the recent satellite launch by North Korea only illustrates “the need for action … to prevent the spread of these weapons.” I like the way E. Thomas McClanahan from the Kansas City Star puts it:
Wrong: Instead, the launch showed the fecklessness of pretending that international agreements and displays of good intentions can change the behavior of countries bent on going nuclear in defiance of world opinion.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was hardly effective in constraining North Korea, which signed it and then simply violated its terms and withdrew. Both Iran and North Korea have been subjected to sanctions and years of diplomatic pressure. Little has worked.

As long as there are states, and even powerful, militant non-state actors, there will be a desire for nuclear weapons. And where there’s a will, eventually, there’s probably a way. It’s one thing to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in military strategy, to reduce the outrageous amount of nuclear weapons we now possess, and to try as hard as we can to prevent nuclear proliferation. It’s entirely another to propose that the world disarm themselves of nuclear weapons entirely. The former are concepts I can get behind. The latter is not.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The 2nd Amendment, Militias, and My Own Excellent Adventure

If you got the bills, this gun broker's got the deals.

No, that isn't UBL.  He's the guy that is ready when the wolf howls at the door!

Last Friday I was unable to attend the field trip to Wright-Patterson AFB because of a class scheduling issue.  However, on Saturday I went on my own adventure to the semi-annual Knob Creek Maching Gun Shoot in West Point, Kentucky.  Although it might blow my cover to blog about my adventure after talking to several of you about it, I feel that it is only appropriate after what I saw there.  

Simply put, private individuals in this country have the ability to own massive amounts of individual firepower.  So much so, in fact, that I believe private ownership of heavy machine guns, field artillary pieces, sub-machine guns, flame throwers, and explosives deserves at least a fair mention in our Defense Statecraft class.  

.50 Cal. Sniper Rifle, $7,800 - Shells, $4 apiece - Good 'Ole Boy shooting it, Priceless

I should start by saying that I fully support the 2nd Amendment and people's right to own these weapons.  However, I personally have NO idea why a person would want to own a .50 Cal. machine gun, sniper rifle, or mini-gun.  Obviously, it is super entertaining to blow stuff up with them, but it is also super expensive entertainment and out of my price range.  This point of this post isn't to argue about the 2nd Amendment though.

The point is that all of the individuals owning these weapons need a creative outlet other than the occassion gathering of like-minded individuals.  Some might say, "Well, that's what the National Guard is for," or "They should be in the Reserves."  It is highly likely that most of the individuals at the Knob Creek shoot were/are in the military in some form or another, and that makes them even more valuable because the Military has already invested time and money in them.  Thus, we should continue to reap the benefits of that investment by giving them an alterative outlet besides for the Reserve and Guard.  

After browsing through the Beyond Goldwater-Nichols - Phase III (dealing specifically with the Guard and Reserve) it is clear that the objective of these military components has shifted dramatically away from their origins since 9/11 and are now critical in foreign operations.  I recommend that DoD begin exploring options about how to harness the power of individuals with the type of fire power displayed at Knob Creek in order to create structures for Homeland Defense and Civil Security Forces.  

This undoubtedly sounds crazy on its face, and I have no idea what this organization would look like.  I believe though that it should serve as a "step-down" organization between the National Guard, the Reserve, and the civilian population.  Individuals that have served in the Armed Forces could use it, and their love for high-powered, expensive weaponry to protect our soil.  And those individuals that haven't served, and do not want to fight war abroad, but still love guns and country could also use it as an an outlet.  It would also be a great way to keep track of them, because, trust me, some of them are absolutely out of their minds. 

Here's to the the return of the well regulated militia.  

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Feith: Will He Be Forced to Run With the Bulls?

BBC recently reported that a human rights group for prisoners’ rights filed a complaint with the National Court in Madrid, Spain which accused six U.S. officials from George W. Bush’s administration with providing legal justification for torture at Guantanamo Bay. The complainants say the officials created a legal framework through which the U.S. could renege on its obligations under the Geneva Conventions and the 1984 Convention Against Torture.

The defendants:
• Alberto Gonzales; ex-Atty General,
• Douglas Feith; former undersecretary of defense for policy,
• William J. Haynes II; former DoD general counsel,
• John C. Yoo; former DoJ lawyer whose secret legal opinions said the president (G.W.) could skirt the Geneva Conventions,
• Jay S. Bybee; Mr. Yoo’s boss a the DoJ Office of Legal Counsel, and
• David S. Addington; former chief of staff and legal adviser to VP Dick Cheney.

The complaint was put before Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge who ordered Chilean madman Pinochet arrested and tried. (it's kind of a big deal when U.S. officials are put on the level with Pinochet) Judge Garzon, passed the case on to prosecutors to decide whether the case had enough merit to justify an investigation and possible arrest warrants.

The Spanish law grants its courts jurisdiction over cases whose facts have not occurred in Spain. In this case, the prosecution will argue it has jurisdiction based on the alleged torture of several Spanish citizens and residents in Guantanamo Bay.

This is not only a Spanish tactic. In the early 1990s, the U.S. enacted the Torture Victims Protection Act (28 USC 1350) an alien tort law which allows even non-US citizens to file civil suits in US federal courts to charge individuals with acting in an official capacity for any foreign nation in committing torture or killing outside the law. The law was put to use in 2008 when the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida (Miami) tried Charles Taylor’s son (Chuckie) on torture charges. He was convicted and sentenced to 97 years in federal prison.

That a foreign country claims jurisdiction over U.S. officials in torture cases such as the ones stemming from the torture at Guantanamo Bay should be no surprise to the U.S. Yet, as the hegemon that helped to institute the international regime against state-sanctioned torture and mistreatment of citizens, the U.S. (especially the former U.S. officials accused) seems appalled. Has our experiment turned into a roving Frankenstein?

The fallout of U.S. actions against countries and foreign nationals caught in the wide net cast to catch those responsible for the 9/11 attacks has been surprising to us all. First, the (widely accepted) shock and awe bombing campaign against Afghanistan to topple the Taliban resulted in (insert sarcastic tone) picking up a few combatants that were invited to Guantanamo for discussions. Then, the country was convinced that toppling Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was needed to secure the US against its WMDs. Oops. We got a few more guests for Guantanamo there and scrounged up some more through “renditions” from friendly, yet seedy, allies. (many of whom were innocent) Our seemingly “good” intentions in the initial phases of the GWOT seemed to morph into wilder and more desperate attempts to “end global terror.” As the news came out on the aforementioned actions, many thought, “Good freaking luck.”

So, now, when Spanish courts are trying to decide whether or not to hold U.S. “deciders” accountable for greasing the “machine” to allow torture, some think … “It’s about gosh darned time!” But, even if warrants are issued (officials close to the case say it is "highly probable" that it will progress), don't hold your breath for extradition to Spain. As Mr. Bashir would tell you, especially with the Obama administration's stance of not investigating too deeply into the sins of Bush officials, any warrants will be mostly symbolic ... unless you wish to travel to Spain.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Don't worry about robots...

Worry about CYBORGS!

Yes, we are creating the tech RIGHT NOW to allow bio-tech hybrids. Granted, it's only a little tiny battery (feeding on your blood...), but eventually it might be something strong enough to power military-grade lasers!

Army as Track to Citizenship?

The Army is now actively combatting its need for more highly skilled soldiers by offering certain immigrants citizenship for enlistment.
This is a good start. But could it also be opening the door to a potential identity crisis of the U.S. military, if too many non-nationals are part of it? In addition to that, it is important that extremist sleepers do not infiltrate the military and have access to sensitive information...

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Iranian Regional Hegemony Isn't the Answer

In response to Tuesday’s discussion about how allowing Iran to develop regional hegemony could be the “least bad” solution in the Middle East, I would like to raise an objection.

In spite of Iran’s desire for nuclear weapons, state sponsorship of terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, and denial of Israel’s right to exist, some peaceniks argue that the United States should simply back off and allow Iran to establish regional hegemony. The argument is that this would create a balance of power that is more conducive to peace. This argument rightly views American presence in the Middle East as a source of conflict, but also relies on the assumption of rational state actors and fails to take into account the powerful secular forces in Iraq that strongly oppose Iranian influence.

In the April 6, 2009, Newsweek, Larry Kaplow details the return of the exiled members of the Baath party. Recently, Prime Minister Maliki recognized the importance of allowing the former Baathists to return. The invasion of 2003 led top government employees, many with graduate educations, to flee the country. Now these technocrats may be needed to keep the gears of society running smoothly. Maliki is slowly embracing the return of Baathist members who could resume their roles as engineers, scientists, and utilities managers and perform other essential societal functions.

The Baath party may also resume the role of a powerful political force. Kaplow writes, “…the party’s whisky-drinking secularism is attractive to Iraqis tired of Islamist rule, and its emphasis on strong central government and opposition to Iran are gaining ground in a country plagued with feuds and intrusive neighbors.”

Iran’s perspective is well explained by Stratfor analyst George Friedman. “From the Iranian point of view, a fully neutral Iraq – with its neutrality guaranteed by Iranian influence – is the only acceptable outcome.”

So why shouldn’t we allow Iranian hegemony in the Middle East? If the Baathists continue to return to power positions in Iraq, a strong Iran could provoke violence between secularist forces in Iraq and the Islamic government in Iran. Even if the Baathists remain in the minority, they are among the most educated in Iraq, and would be powerful allies to any country that had an interest in preventing Iranian regional hegemony, such as Saudi Arabia.

If we give Iran the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they will not use nuclear weapons, they will cease sponsoring terrorism, and they will leave Israel alone, it is evident that a strong Iran could still be a source of conflict in the Middle East. Far from peace-promoting, this “least bad” solution easily has the potential to be a source of conflict.